From Bell Jars to Fresh Breaths

1432 Words6 Pages
Young adults in high school and college face a constant bombardment of questions and opinions about their plans for the future, which only makes it harder to choose between multiple possibilties. Sylvia Plath weaves these confused, lost feelings into her autobiographical fictional novel The Bell Jar. The highly motivated main character, Esther Greenwood, wins a scholarship to work at a magazine over the summer, but during the internship, she realizes that she does not know who she wants to be anymore. Rapidly descending into suicidal depression, the empty Esther travels to a mental hospital and eventually recovers, reborn as a confident, independent woman. Esther initially plays many roles for others; however, her identity crumbles when these contrasting lifestyles collide, for she cannot reach selfhood until she realizes that she can only be herself. For her entire life, Esther has juggled different versions of herself that she takes on to please other people; this leaves her inner self feeling lost and confused. Esther Greenwood is a girl who has known one thing in her life: winning prizes and scholarships. The summer after her junior year of college, she wins a fashion magazine contest for a month-long internship in New York. Cognizant that she should be having the time of her life, Esther only feels numb and disappointed. She stands at the bottom of New York’s “granite canyons,” seeing them as inaccessible (Plath 1). Their sheer height disallusion her from even attempting to climb them, and dust blows in her face, suffocating her words and vision. Like a leech, Esther latches onto various people in her life to feel like she is living. For her friend from the magazine, Doreen, she acts strong and daring when she allows hersel... ... middle of paper ... ...ges of an “open door” and Esther’s “ability to breathe” augur a positive future (Wagner). Esther escapes from her bell jar under Dr. Nolan’s guidance, for she realizes that her only true identity is her own. Esther maintains several conflicting, false identities based on societal expectations that cause her real self to crumble under the pressure. Fractured, she cannot form again until she realizes that the only identitiy she must maintain should be her own. Patriarchal norms clash with Esther’s true identity, but she no longer cares about maintaining a passive, fake appearance. As her story demonstrates, although being unique or outside the norm can be difficult, basing one’s beliefs and lifestyle on things society considers “normal” causes greater harm. Outside approval will never exist completely, so one must approve of and love his or her own identity instead.
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